Sunday, February 1, 2009

Times-News Black History Month: Fit 2 A T accepted ‘not as a black business but as just a business’



KINGSPORT — Delbert “Donny” Wade always wanted to own a business. So when he began preparing to retire from Eastman Chemical Co. after 30 years of service, he and his wife Linda decided to explore their options.
They narrowed their choices to two business concepts: opening a hot dog stand or an alterations storefront.

“I’m a good-sized man and it’s hard for me to get good alterations,” Donny said. “We did some research and found there wasn’t a lot of alterations businesses available. So after praying about it, we decided to open one up.”
Donny and Linda opened Fit 2 A T in April 2008 at 124 Commerce St. The shop offers all types of alterations, as well as embroidery and monogramming services.
The business features a large dressing area complete with a mirrored platform, along with a large room equipped with various machines that perform specific sewing functions.
The Wades opened the shop during prom season last year, which helped get business off to a good start.
“There was an avalanche. And then after prom season came wedding season. So we stayed busy,” Donny said.
The shop has a partnership with Annie’s Room, which sends its customers with alterations needs to Fit 2 A T.
Linda said the shop has attracted customers from across the region.
“We had a lady coming from Big Stone Gap — and she used to take her garments to Abingdon,” Linda said.
“I love the joy of getting to talk with people. This has actually been like a ministry for us. It’s not just a job or a business, it’s an adventure.”
The Wades themselves don’t perform alterations. Donny manages the business, while the actual sewing work is performed by professional seamstress Karen Housewright. Receptionist Rita Batman oversees the front office.
Meanwhile, Linda Wade helps out at the business when she’s not working with at-risk youth at Dobyns-Bennett High School.
Donny also does consulting work and serves as an associate minister and Sunday School teacher at Mount Zion Baptist Church.
As African American business owners, Donny and Linda said they’ve encountered no racism at the shop. But Donny, 53, grew up in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and remembers when his parents would go through a local fast-food restaurant’s drive-through because the family wasn’t welcome inside the e a t e r y.
“They wouldn’t let us come in,” Donny said.
In 1967, the Murfreesboro school system was integrated, and black and white children landed in the same schools, the same classrooms.
Donny remembers being called by a racial slur.
“Now, for us to open our own business in 2008 and for people to accept us — not as a black business but as just a business — that’s something,” Donny said.
Because of that, he said he’s not surprised that the country elected its first African-American president. On election day, he recalled Martin Luther King Jr.,’s words.
“He said, ‘I may not get to the promised land with you, but we’ll make it.’ I just felt a sense of peace. What God means to happen, will happen,” he said.
Linda said she accompanied her 83-year-old mother to the polls on election day to vote for the first time in her long life.
“That’s when reality hit home. It just brought hope,” she said.
For more information on the business, contact Fit 2 A T at (423) 288-9494.